Public Still Has Say on Septic

            Rochester Health Director Karen Walega urges residents to register to attend one of the two remaining public hearings on the state Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed changes to Title 5 septic regulations and to contact Representative William Straus and Senator Michael Rodrigues.

            “The deadline for letters to DEP has been pushed back to January 30 … so we have a little bit more time,” said Walega, crediting political leaders across the state for the delay.

            The concern is that should MassDEP designate a significant portion of the Town of Rochester as “nitrogen sensitive,” then the requirements made on homeowners could carry crippling cost. Residents can access a GIS database map at, enter their address and find out if their property is situated in a nitrogen-sensitive area.

            According to Board of Health members and municipal officials in the Tri-Towns, denitrification technology in private septic systems is evolving, lacks consistency in its reliability and requires every homeowner with such a system to perform maintenance and keep records.

            Walega’s comments came during the January 4 public meeting of the Rochester Board of Health.

            While noting that Rochester is not currently listed as a nitrogen-sensitive town, she told the board that the regulations as proposed apply to estuaries studied and designated as nitrogen-sensitive. Walega suspects Rochester will eventually be included, and she has reached out to Straus’ office.

            “It’s very important to get comments out to the Select Board and to your representative,” said Walega. “We need to know more about this, and at this point in time, I think the best thing we can do is ask for a six-month moratorium.”

            The board also planned to meet January 12 to finalize a letter to be sent to MassDEP.

            To attend the January 23 or January 25 public hearing, visit

            Board Chairman David Sousa was unable to attend the January 4 meeting, and board members Sarah Eby and Glenn Lawrence presided over a contentious discussion between neighboring property owners involving a long-standing dispute over farm animals.

            When over a dozen sheep were in his yard in the aftermath of a recent storm, Rochester homeowner Larry Oliveira thought a prior ruling would have triggered the forfeiture of his neighbor’s animals that he had complained about multiple times, but the board ruled that the latest incident was involuntary and the result of a massive tree falling on the fence separating the residents’ properties during a storm.

            After filing a complaint on December 27, a frustrated Oliveira told the board he has been dealing with the problem for seven years, and he was upset to learn that the conditions established would not be brought to bear in this situation.

            Walega instructed the board that it could vote to have Town Counsel Blair Bailey take legal action against the neighboring property owner, but both members present determined that there was no violation of the ruling.

            In other January 4 business, the board discussed legal issues with Trailside Estates, which the members said was issued building permits for two units. Eby said there should be a cease-and-desist order in place. It was anticipated that Ken Motta and Rick Riccio of Field Engineering would be communicating with the board.

            In reviewing the Health Department’s FY24 budget, Walega estimated a figure of $78,010, assuming the health nurse would work 10 hours weekly, administration and Walega 15 hours each, and $6,472 approved for elected officials. The amount represents a $6,040 total increase over FY23. Walega wants to make Board of Health Administrator Lori Walsh a full-time town employee.

            “My goal in all of this and me working here is … I’m trying to pave the way for the next person who sits in my seat,” said Walega.

            Eby asked if Walsh would have enough to do to justify the extra hours. Walega gave an unequivocal “yes” and noted that “Lori is the only town employee that works full time and doesn’t reap the benefits.”

            Eby asked if it is possible to raise Walsh’s pay ahead of FY24.

            Walega also told the board that maintenance for the town’s landfill will cost $800,000, and her retirement fund required by the pension agreement established by the state will necessarily jump from $14,000 to $19,000.

            Public Nurse Connie Dolan is budgeted for 10 hours of work weekly but is averaging 12-14 in season. She is a sailor so with time off during the summer her weeks average out to 10 hours overall. But it was also stressed that Rochester lags behind Marion and Mattapoisett in budgeting for the public health nurse.

            “We’re here to make sure we’re covering the health of our community,” said Eby. “It’s not like we’re asking for 8,000 big things; we’re asking for our people to be able to do their jobs.”

            The board canceled its meeting scheduled for January 10, but with the FY24 budget approval due on January 13, a meeting was scheduled for January 12. The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Health has not been scheduled.

Rochester Board of Health

By Mick Colageo

Leave A Comment...